Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is a legendary political figure who is well known even in the western world. The 4thand 7thPrime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir is also the first Malaysian Prime Minister to have served under 2 different parties, namely UMNO and Pakatan Harapan. Regarded as one of the last ‘old guards’ of Asia, along with Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesia’s Suharto, the 93-year-old man has lived through and witnessed several historical moments (namely World War II and Malaysia’s independence).
Here are 8 fun facts about Mahathir, way before he began his political career.
1. Mahathir was not born into the aristocracy or a prominent political family
Instead, he is the son of a lower middle-class hospital worker and school teacher in a rural village. Born on 10 July 1925, Mahathir grew up in a poor neighbourhood in the town of Alor Setar. He was the youngest of 10 children. His father’s low socio-economic status meant his sisters were unable to enrol in secondary school. That being said, his mother, Wan Tempawan, came from a long line of Kedah royal household courtiers.
2. His father was the first Indian-Malay headmaster in an English school
His father Mohamad bin Iskandar, who is originally from Penang, was the first Indian-Malay headmaster of an English school in Alor Setar (now Maktab Sultan Abdul Hamid). Additionally, Mahathir’s grandfather, Mohamad bin Iskander was brought to Malaya by the British East India Company to teach English in the Kedah royal palace.
3. World War II affected his perspective of the Europeans
Mahathir grew up when the Malay Peninsula was under British rule before World War II. It was also a time when the Chinese and Indians dominated the economy. After the success of the Japanese invasion, it convinced him that there is nothing inherently superior in the Europeans. “They could be defeated, they could be reduced to grovelling before an Asian race, the Japanese.”
4. He went into business during before enrolling to a medical school
With schools closed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya during the WWII, Mahathir went into business, first selling coffee and later pisang goreng and other snacks.
5. He became a Malay nationalist after being turned down for a scholarship to an English university
The reason being his father was not an aristocrat.
6. He met his wife at a medical school in Singapore
Love blossomed between Mahathir and his fellow classmate, Siti Hasmah, when they attended medical school in Singapore. Then known as ‘King Edward VII College of Medicine’, the college is now part of NUS.
7. Mahathir wrote for The Straits Times in college
Writing under the pen name “C.H.E. Det” (his family nickname was Cek Det), Mahathir used to contribute essays to The Straits Times, even when he was a college student.
The articles appeared towards end-1948, in his third year of college, and were about:
- His observations of Malay customs
- Opinions on Malay issues
- Political views on nationality and royalty
8. He was Alor Setar’s first Malay doctor
After graduation, he worked as a doctor in government service before marrying in 1956. He returned to his hometown the following year to set up his own practice and became a successful doctor there.